Landlord-tenant 

Rights and Duties of Landlords

The Tennessee law governing landlords and tenants varies according to the county in which you live. This tape applies specifically to residential rental property in metropolitan areas. If the property is outside of a metropolitan area, a different law might apply.

Even if the property is inside a metropolitan area, this law might not apply if the tenant has a "lease-purchase" agreement or if you are leasing commercial property.

For many reasons, landlords should have a written lease agreement. However, even without a written lease, you and your tenants have certain rights. Without a written lease, the tenant may occupy the property from month to month. This means that you cannot evict the tenant without at least one month's notice. If you have a written lease, it might provide for a weekly tenancy, or it could give the tenant the right to stay longer than a month.

If you ask your tenant to sign a written lease and the tenant refuses, the tenant can be considered a "trespasser," and can be immediately evicted. However, if you accept payment of rent and you have an oral agreement for the tenant to occupy the property, the tenant is not a trespasser. In that case, you could not evict the tenant until you gave the tenant notice to leave.

Your agreement with the tenant determines the amount of rent that is due. If you do not have a written lease agreement, and you discover that you and your tenant have a difference understanding about how much rent is due, the tenant will owe the "reasonable" rental value of the property.

Rent is not charged by the day, unless you and your tenant agree to that system.

You cannot charge a late fee until the tenant is more than five days late in paying rent; and the late fee cannot be more than 10% of the rent. (Different rules may apply to late fees for tenants in a public housing project.)

If you receive a security deposit, you must tell the tenant in writing the bank in which it will be held. If you do not do this, you may not keep the deposit (although you could sue the tenant for damage to the property).

After the tenant moves out, you must return the security deposit unless you give the tenant a written list of damages that will be charged against the deposit. If you do not give the list to the tenant in person, you should mail it to the tenant's last known address.

If the tenant signs the list, you may assume that the tenant consented to these charges. If the tenant does not sign the list, the tenant must give you a written objection to the list. If you and your tenant cannot work out the problem, the tenant might sue to get the deposit back, in which case the judge would decide whether your list of damages was legitimate.

If the tenant leaves owing rent and does not demand that the deposit be returned, you may apply the deposit to the unpaid rent after 30 days.

If the tenant is entitled to a refund of the security deposit, you must send written notice of the refund to the tenant's last known address. If you do not receive a response from the tenant within 60 days, you may keep the deposit.

You must maintain the property according to any building and housing codes that materially affect health and safety. You must also make any repairs necessary to keep the property in a fit and habitable condition. However, if you have a written lease, the lease might make the tenant responsible for certain repairs. However, the lease could not require the tenant to bring the property "up to code" if you rented it in an unsafe condition.

A landlord may sometimes be liable to a tenant and to the tenant's guests for injuries sustained on the property. In general, a landlord is liable for injuries caused by dangerous conditions that existed before the property was turned over to the tenant, if the landlord knew about the condition or should have known about it and if the tenant did not know about it.

In addition, a landlord has a duty to maintain common areas (such as stairways) in multi-unit buildings.

If the landlord tries to repair a condition (even if the lease required the tenant to make the repair) the landlord could be liable for injuries caused by negligently made repairs.

You cannot have a clause in a lease that shields a landlord from liability for injuries a tenant sustains as a result of the landlord's failure to do what the law requires. Landlords should give serious consideration to buying insurance to protect their property and to cover liability for personal injuries.

Tenants are also obligated to obey all building and housing codes that materially affect health and safety; and they have a duty to keep the property as clean and safe as it was when they moved in. In addition, they may not act in any manner that would disturb their neighbors or permit their guests to disturb the neighbors.

You may impose rules governing the tenant's use of the property, but the rules cannot be unreasonable; and they must apply to all tenants equally.

You may enter the property at reasonable times to inspect it, or to make repairs, or to show it to future tenants or purchasers. But you must give the tenant notice before coming, unless it is an emergency.

If the tenant creates a condition that materially affects health and safety and does not correct it after 14 days' notice from you, you may enter the property and repair the problem. You may also enter to repair a problem without notice, in the case of an emergency. In either case, you may bill the tenant for repairs that the tenant was supposed to make.

If the tenant is gone for 30 days without paying rent and without notifying you, you may consider the property abandoned. In addition, if you have a written lease, it could require the tenant to tell you if the tenant is going to be gone more than seven days.

When the tenant abandons the dwelling and leaves personal property behind, you have certain rights to dispose of the property. However, you also have certain duties; so it would be a good idea to consult a lawyer before destroying or selling the property.

You may not take a tenant's personal property just because the tenant owes you money, unless the tenant signs a document under the Uniform Commercial Code and you record that documents, or unless the tenant gave you the property to hold as collateral.

You must tell tenants in writing that you do not provide insurance for their personal property.

You cannot discontinue "essential services" to your tenant. First, what is an "essential service"? "Essential services" means utility service (such as heat and electricity) and anything else that you promised to provide--if it materially affects the tenant's health and safety.

If you fail to provide essential services and the tenant notifies you about the problem in writing. Then, if you do not solve the problem, the tenant may obtain the service at the tenant's expense and deduct the cost from the rent; or the tenant may sue you for the difference between the rent due and the fair rent due under the circumstances; or the tenant may obtain substitute housing until the you correct the problem, in which case the tenant does not owe rent until you do correct the problem; and the tenant may recover the cost of the substitute housing.

Of course, the tenant cannot rely on these remedies if the tenant or the tenant's guests caused the problem; and the tenant must behave reasonably in such matters as hiring someone else to fix the problem.

You may not evict a tenant or interrupt essential services just because you are having a dispute with the tenant. You must get a court order before you can forcibly evict a tenant.

If you evict a tenant or cut off services without a court order, the tenant may sue you for damages--and you might have to pay the tenant's lawyer fees.

If the tenant violates the lease, you may send the tenant notice of the problem and give the tenant 30 days to correct the problem. If the tenant does not correct the problem, you may sue for possession at the time set in the notice. However, if you know about the problem and accept rent from the tenant without complaining, you cannot later evict the tenant for violating the lease for that reason--at least until you tell the tenant that the tenant must start following the rules again. You should give the tenant this notice in writing.

If the tenant corrects the problem, but it happens again within six months, you may cancel the lease after 14 days' notice.

Unless you have a written lease that says otherwise, you cannot evict a tenant for non-payment of rent unless you give the tenant written notice that the tenant failed to pay the rent.

If the tenant cancels the lease before it is over, the tenant will owe the balance due under the lease. However, you must try to rent the property to someone else to offset your damages.

If you are renting on a month-to-month basis, you may cancel the lease by giving the tenant 30 days' notice. The 30 days begins to run after the rent is due for the next month after the tenant receives the notice. For instance, suppose that rent is due on the first of the month, and you give the tenant notice to leave on March 10. The next rent payment is due on April 1, so the 30 days' notice begins to run on April 1; and the tenant does not have to leave until May 1.

If you are renting on a week-to-week basis, you may cancel the lease by giving the tenant ten days' notice.

If the tenant does not leave at the time required, you may sue for possession of the property and for damages and your attorney fees.

You only have to give a tenant three days' notice to leave if the tenant (or the tenant's guests) commit an act that is violent or dangerous to others; but even in this situation, you may not evict the tenant by force without a court order and may not cut off essential services to force the tenant to leave.

You may sue to evict a tenant in General Sessions Court. If you do not have a lawyer, the court clerk can give you information about the procedure. If you lose, you have ten days to appeal; likewise, if the tenant loses, the tenant has ten days to appeal the eviction after the judge issues the order.

In general, the law requires both landlords and tenants to behave reasonably with each other and in good faith. If either you or your tenant behaves unreasonably, a court can enforce the other party's rights and could even require the offending party to pay the innocent party's lawyer.

Rights and Duties of Tenants

The Tennessee law governing landlords and tenants varies according to the county in which you live. This message applies specifically to metropolitan areas. If you live outside of a metropolitan area, a different law might apply.

Even if you live inside a metropolitan area, this law might not apply if you have a "lease-purchase" agreement for your house or if you are leasing commercial property.

If you do not have a written lease, you have the right to occupy the property from month to month. This means that you cannot be evicted without at least one month's notice. If you have a written lease, the lease might give you the right to stay longer.

If your landlord asks you to sign a written lease and you refuse, you will be considered a "trespasser," and can be immediately evicted. However, if your landlord accepts payment of rent and you have an oral agreement to occupy the property, you are not a trespasser. In that case, you could not be evicted until you receive notice to leave.

Your agreement with the landlord determines the amount of your rent. If you do not have a written lease agreement, and you discover that you and your landlord have a different understanding about how much rent you owe, you will have to pay the "reasonable" rental value of the property.

Rent is not charged by the day, unless you and your landlord agree to that system.

You cannot be charged a late fee until you are more than five days late in paying your rent; and the late fee cannot be more than 10% of your rent. (Different rules may apply to late fees if you are a tenant in a public housing project.)

If you give your landlord a security deposit, the landlord must identify the bank in which it will be held. If the landlord does not do this, the landlord may not keep your deposit (although the landlord could sue you for damage to the property).

After you move out, the landlord must return your security deposit unless the landlord gives you a written list of damages that will be charged against your deposit. If you sign the list, the landlord may assume that you consented to these charges. If you do not sign the list, you must give the landlord a written objection to the list. Unless you and your landlord can work out the problem, you might have to sue to get your deposit back.

If you leave owing rent and do not demand that your deposit be returned, the landlord may apply the deposit to your unpaid rent after 30 days.

If you are entitled to a refund of your security deposit, you should make a written demand for it after you move.

Your landlord must maintain the property according to any building and housing codes that materially affect health and safety. The landlord must also make any repairs necessary to keep the property in a fit and habitable condition. However, if you have a written lease, the lease might make you responsible for certain repairs.

If there are four or more rental units in your building, the landlord must provide garbage receptacles in a common area.

As a tenant, you are also obligated to obey all building and housing codes that materially affect health and safety. You also have a duty to keep the property as clean and safe as it was when you moved in. In addition, you must not act in any manner that would disturb your neighbors, and you cannot permit your guests to disturb the neighbors.

Your landlord may impose rules governing your use of the property, but the rules cannot be unreasonable. They must apply to all tenants equally.

You must let your landlord come inside the property at reasonable times to inspect it, or to make repairs, or to show it to future tenants or purchasers. But the landlord must give you notice before coming, unless it is an emergency.

If you have created a condition that materially affects health and safety and you do not correct

it, the landlord may enter the property and repair the problem after 14 days' notice to you or without notice, in the case of an emergency. In either case, the landlord may bill you for repairs that you were supposed to make.

If you are gone for 30 days without paying rent and without notifying your landlord, the landlord may consider the property abandoned and remove your personal property. Your landlord does not have a right to take your personal property just because you owe the landlord money, unless you have signed a document under the Uniform Commercial Code or unless you gave the landlord the property to hold as collateral.

You should assume that your landlord has not provided insurance for your personal property. You may buy renter’s insurance to protect your property against theft or fire or other losses.

In addition, if you have a written lease, it could require you to tell your landlord if you are going to be gone more than seven days.

If your landlord fails to provide "essential services," you have several options. First, what is an "essential service"? "Essential services" means utility service (such as heat and electricity) and anything else that the landlord promised to provide--if it materially affects your health and safety.

If your landlord fails to provide essential services, you must tell the landlord about the problem in writing. Then, if your landlord does not solve the problem, you may obtain the service at your own expense and deduct the cost from your rent; or you may sue the landlord for the difference between the rent you paid and the fair rent due under the circumstances; or you may obtain substitute housing until the landlord complies, in which case you do not owe rent until the landlord corrects the problem; and you may recover the cost of the substitute housing.

Of course, you cannot rely on these remedies if you or your guests caused the problem; and you must act reasonably in such matters as hiring someone else to fix the problem.

Your landlord may not evict you or interrupt essential services just because you are having a dispute with the landlord. As long as you are defined as a "tenant" under the law, your landlord has to get a court order before you can be forcibly evicted.

If your landlord evicts you or cuts off services without a court order, you can sue the landlord for damages--and the landlord might have to pay your lawyer’s fees.

If you violate your lease, the landlord must send you notice of the problem and give you 30 days to correct the problem. If you do not correct the problem, you will have to leave at the time set in the notice. However, if the landlord knows about the problem and accepts rent from you without complaining, the landlord cannot later evict you for violating the lease for that reason--at least until the landlord tells you that you must start following the rules again.

If you correct the problem, but it happens again within six months, the landlord may cancel your lease after 14 days' notice.

Unless you have a written lease that says otherwise, your landlord cannot evict you for non-payment of rent unless the landlord gives you written notice that you failed to pay the rent.

If you cancel your lease before it is over, you will owe the landlord the balance due under the lease. However, the landlord must try to rent the property to someone else to offset the landlord's damages.

If you are renting on a month-to-month basis, the landlord may cancel the lease by giving you 30 days' notice. The 30 days begins to run after the rent is due for the next month after you get the notice. For instance, suppose that your rent is due on the first of the month, and the landlord gives you notice to leave on March 10. Your next rent payment is due on April 1, so the 30 days' notice begins to run on April 1; and you do not have to leave until May 1.

If you are renting on a week-to-week basis, the landlord may cancel the lease by giving you ten days' notice.

If you do not leave at the time required, the landlord may sue you for possession of the property. You could have to pay the landlord damages plus attorney fees.

The landlord only has to give you three days' notice to leave if you (or your guests) commit an act that is violent or dangerous to others; but even in this situation, the landlord may not evict you by force without a court order and may not cut off essential services to force you to leave.

If your landlord sues to evict you, if will probably be in General Sessions Court. If you do not have a lawyer, the court clerk can give you information about the procedure. You have ten days to appeal the eviction after the judge issues the order.

In general, the law requires both landlords and tenants to behave reasonably with each other and in good faith. Your landlord cannot force you to give up your rights under the law, even if you have a written lease that claims to waive your rights.

If either you or your landlord behaves unreasonably, a court can enforce the other party's rights and could even require the offending party to pay the innocent party's lawyer.  

Rights of Tenants in Public Housing

This page only applies to tenants who live in Community Development Complexes. If you are renting an apartment in a housing project run by a Community Development Corporation, there are specific Federal Regulations which govern your rights as a tenant. You have greater rights and protection than most tenants who rent from private landlords, especially when it comes to being evicted. These rights are in addition to the eviction procedures that landlords are generally required to follow. Number 1901 entitled "Rights and duties of tenants" discusses eviction procedures.

A Community Development Corporation cannot evict you unless:

l. You have seriously or repeatedly violated a material term of the written lease rental agreement; or

2. The landlord had other good cause for evicting you. At the present time, the meaning of "good cause" for eviction has to be determined on a case-by-case basis.

At least one of these two grounds for eviction just mentioned must exist to evict you.

If you come under one of the two grounds for eviction, the landlord must first notify you in writing that he intends to terminate your lease. This written notice must include:

1. The reasons why you have to move out.

2. A statement that you may make a reply if you wish.

3. A statement that you may request a grievance hearing under the grievance procedures for your particular Community Development Corporation. Under certain circumstances, for example, illegal or drug-related activity, you may not have a right to a grievance hearing.

The time for written notice varies with the reason the lease is being terminated. First, the time of the notice for non-payment of rent is 30 days, if the rent is not paid within 14 days of the date due. If the resident pays within the 14-day period, and within six months fails to pay the rent again, the Community Development Corporation only has to give 14 days notice, not 30. Second, the time of notice for a threat to the health or safety of residents or CDC employees is a "reasonable time", depending upon the seriousness of the situation. This notice will not be more then 30 days. Under the Tennessee Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant act, a landlord may give a tenant only three days notice if there is immediate danger to life or property. Third, the time is 30 days notice for all other cases.

The landlord must serve you with this written notice by either sending it by First-Class Mail addressed to you or personally serving it to you or another adult living in your apartment.

After receiving notice to move out, you should move from the premises within the time period provided, unless you feel the reasons given for the eviction are not true or not good cause for eviction.

If you feel the reasons are not true or are not good cause for eviction, you may request a grievance hearing. You should put your request in writing within ten days of receiving the notice to vacate. You are first entitled to an Informal Grievance Hearing which is usually held in the office of manager and in the presence of a CDC Hearing Officer. If you are not satisfied with the outcome of the Informal Grievance Hearing, you may request a Formal Hearing. This request must also be within ten days from the date you receive written notice on the Informal Hearing. At the Formal Hearing, the Hearing Officer will be an impartial person who is not an employee of the CDC.

You will receive a written notice of the time, place and procedures for the Formal Hearing. At the Formal Hearing, you have a right to see and copy relevant CDC documents, a right to be represented by an attorney, and a right to present evidence and examine witnesses. After the hearing the Hearing Officer will send a written decision to you and to the CDC. Even if the Hearing Officer agrees with the CDC's decision requiring you to move out, you still have the right to a trial in General Sessions Court regarding the eviction.

If you do not move from the premises, the landlord must file a Detainer Warrant in General Sessions Court to evict you. The time of the trial will be stated on the Detainer Warrant which will be served on you. At the time of the trial, you can appear with or without a lawyer and dispute the landlord's reasons stated in the written notice for eviction.

Remember, the landlord must prove you have either seriously or repeatedly violated a material provision of the rental agreement or that you have given the landlord good cause for your eviction.

The landlord may not present additional reasons for the eviction at the time of the trial which were not stated in the written notice to move out.

These rights of tenants residing in housing complexes subsidized by the Federal Government are part of the written rental agreement. Although the terms of the written rental agreement may be changed, and this includes the raising of your rent, all changes must first be approved by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, commonly referred to as HUD. The local Regional Office of HUD is listed in the Blue Pages of your telephone directory under United States Government. You may also call the office of your Congressman.

If you are renting an apartment from a CDC, you are a tenant and have special rights which are in addition to the rights all tenants have under Tennessee Law.

First, a written lease must be entered into between you and your Housing Authority landlord. This lease must include the following items:

1. Description of the apartment, and all members of the household.

2. The length of the lease.

3. The monthly rent.

4. Any additional charges for upkeep and repair of the apartment.

5. The landlord's responsibilities, which include making necessary repairs reasonably, promptly, keeping the electricity, heating and plumbing in good working condition, and providing hot and cold running water.

6. Your responsibilities as a tenant, which include letting only those members of the household described in the lease reside in your apartment, keeping the apartment clean and safe, not damaging any part of the apartment, and not disturbing the peace of your neighbors.

7. A statement that you and the landlord shall inspect the apartment before you move in, and both you and landlord shall sign a written statement describing the condition of the apartment at that time.

You may obtain additional advice regarding your rights as a tenant in public housing from an attorney.

What Is Trespassing?

"Trespassing" is a legal term that can refer to a wide variety of offenses against a person or against property. In this tape, we are going to talk only about "trespassing" as it relates to going onto someone's land without consent.

Technically, a person violates the law against trespassing by knowingly going onto someone else's land without consent. "Knowledge" may be inferred when the owner (or the owner's representative) tells the trespasser not to go on the land or when the land is fenced in a manner that suggests that intruders should stay out or there is a "no trespassing" sign in an obvious place.

A trespasser will probably not be prosecuted if the land was open to the public when the trespasser originally entered the land and the trespasser's conduct did not substantially interfere with the owner's use of the property and the trespasser left on request.

Violating this law is a Class C misdemeanor.

The more serious crime of "aggravated criminal trespass" combines trespassing with conduct that would cause fear for someone's safety. This is a Class B misdemeanor. If the "aggravated criminal trespass" is committed in a house or a hospital or a school, it is a Class A misdemeanor.

If a trespasser drives or parks a motor vehicle (including a motorcycle or ATV) on private property reserved for customers or employees of a business and refuses to leave when asked, the trespasser has committed a Class C misdemeanor. This rule applies regardless of whether the business posted a sign warning against trespassing.

Regardless of whether a crime has been committed, a property owner can resort to the law to prevent trespassing. If someone makes a habit of trespassing, the property owner may ask the court to order the trespasser to get off the property and to stay off. If the trespasser causes damage to the owner's property, the owner may also sue for damages.

Sometimes a trespasser continues trespassing for such a long time, the law permits the trespasser to have the right to stay on the land. This right ranges from the right to live on the land to the right to pass across it to get somewhere else.

There are a number of complex rules governing the acquisition of these rights, which are often lumped under the broad title of "adverse possession"; and if you are concerned about acquiring these rights or preventing someone from acquiring rights in your land, you should contact a lawyer.

One common form of trespassing is when a neighbor's driveway or fence encroaches onto someone else's land. Sometimes the owner will not want to make an issue of the encroachment--

either because it seems to be a minor problem or because the neighbor is a friend. To avoid problems later, however, the owner should give the "trespasser" written permission to keep the encroachment for as long as the owner continues to authorize it. If properly handled, this document will prevent the trespasser from acquiring a right to continue the encroachment and from passing along this right to future owners of the trespasser's land.

One word of caution: sometimes posting a "no trespassing" sign can backfire. Because the "adverse possession" rules are so complicated, posting a "no trespassing" sign can actually help a trespasser support a claim to the owner's property.

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